Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Extinction Method Ain't Fast Enough For Me

Lots of parenting books recommend something called the "extinction method" as a way of getting rid of bad or unacceptable behavior. The basic idea is, when your child commences the unacceptable behavior, you immediately withdraw all parental attention from the child. Do this often enough, so the thinking goes, and the unacceptable behavior will cease; it will become extinct, much like dinosaurs.

Well, maybe it works ... eventually.

But it sure isn't working around here, or at least it's not working fast enough for me.

Thing 1 has lately been going through a rebellion worthy enough of adolsecence, even though he's only three and a half. Contrarian when it comes to ... well, nearly everything, he balks at whatever he's given to eat or drink, or asked to wear, and wherever he's told we're going, he declares with stubborn, foot-stomping intensity, "I wanna go somewhere ELSE!" It matters not to him that he has no idea where "else," only that he register his refusal to go along with whatever's planned, even if the planned destination is a birthday party that will undoubtedly feature pizza, cake, and the parting gift of goody bags. Hell no, Thing 1 won't go ... unless bodily picked up and carried, arms and legs flailing (usually aimed lethally at daddy's private parts; what the hell, we weren't planning on giving him another sibling anyway).

When this phase first began, we tried reasoning with our Little Dictator. Clearly that was a mistake.

Then we simply told him "no," he could NOT have whatever thing he wanted, but must comply with our request.

That only resulted in more high-pitched, ear-grating whining, or worse, an all-out fit.

There have been time-outs where possible, and there have been sessions where clothes have been taken off against his will (when it's time to change for bed and he's refusing), or occasions when he's been carried out of wherever we are, howling to the Gods of preschool about his unjust fate.

Once in a while, dad has been able to turn a whining session into giggles. Or mom has succeeded in distracting, changing the subject, bribing with a promised treat or toy.

But those have been brief respites. Sir Whines-A-Lot continues his dread reign.

The best method seems to be to ignore the whining, fit or protest in whatever form it takes, by leaving the room and ignoring him altogether.

Eventually, he seems to tire of his protests.

The problem is, "eventually" takes too long. It takes too long on each occasion, because the whining and protesting either goes on for what seems like an hour but is probably just ten very annyoing minutes, or it goes away briefly, only to reappear moments later when the next parental request is issued and met with refusal.

Ignoring one fit hasn't yet eliminated the next one.

And until it does, I remain about skeptic about the much-lauded "extinction method."

Still, I'm desperate. So today I told his dad, it's gotta be Zero Tolerance: at the first whine, we've got to start ignoring him. Perhaps by continued repitition, he'll finally get it: the whining gets him nowhere ... except stuck with himself, and without whatever it is he wants.

Let the ignoring begin.

(But I'm not holding my breath.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi. Ignoring a behavior is part of operant conditioning. When the child is no longer given the attention (whether positive or negative-the behavior will "eventually" become extinct). The only problem is (I'm not sure if the parenting books mention this) is the extinction burst. Initially the behavior will intensify before dying out. The most difficult part is being absolutely consistent. Hope you don't mind the explanation, this is a concept I have learned about quite a bit. Good luck!!!